TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After passing a new law to increase teacher salaries in 2020, Florida still has not delivered the minimum pay it promised to every teacher in the state.
In June 2020, DeSantis signed the legislature’s House Bill 641, which approved $500 million of the state’s budget to increase the minimum or base salaries of all teachers in Florida. From those funds, $400 million was dedicated to raise base pay for full-time teachers in the classroom, and $100 million for increasing salaries for “Florida’s veteran teachers and other instructional personnel.”
In the Florida’s Freedom First budget proposal, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed state funding plan for 2022, education would see a big increase to meet goals that were set in 2020.
When he signed HB 641 into law, the governor called the pay increase “historic,” and said higher salaries would ensure Florida students got “great teachers” and would help alleviate teacher shortages. The law was supposed to increase all teacher salaries to at least $47,500 per year.
The budget for teacher salary increases grew the following year.
The 2021 Florida General Appropriations allocated $550 million for the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation. Of that, 80% or $440,000,000 was to go toward increasing the base pay of full-time teachers in the classroom.
In the Freedom First Budget proposed by DeSantis for 2022, teacher raises are promised again, though not higher than the previous promise of $47,500. Instead, the proposal includes the note that the year’s funding would be used in an effort to make good on the previously pledged increases. To meet that goal, the governor’s proposed budget would allocate millions of dollars more.
“$600 million, an increase of $50 million, in funding to continue the state’s priority to raise the minimum K-12 teacher salary to $47,500,” the budget proposal reads. “As well as salary increases for veteran teachers and other eligible instructional personnel.”
Instead, even as late as June 2021, a full year after the law to increase salaries passed and hundreds of millions of dollars were dedicated to meeting that payment threshold, multiple counties still haven’t made it to mark. In total, 31 counties still have yet to reach the $47,500 salary minimums for all of their teachers, based on reporting of average salaries by the Florida Department of Education.
Continued pushes for increasing teacher pay and hiring more educators in Florida follow months of record levels of Americans quitting their jobs in 2021. From July to December, a minimum of 4 million people quit each month, though with some minor fluctuation. The quits, as they’re called by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hit every industry.
Education was not exempt from the loss of professionals, in addition to the teachers and personnel that had succumbed to COVID-19. Florida was no exception. Nationally, 55,000 workers left their jobs in educational services in December 2021, according to BLS data.
Data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity showed 300 educational services professionals leave their jobs as recently as December. While there are more people working in the industry in Florida compared to 2021, 8.2% specifically, the state had hundreds leave their jobs.
While the state continues to work on retaining teachers through signing bonuses, state bonuses for those already employed, and higher salaries, school districts must also face down fines for not having enough teachers.
State statutes require classes from pre-kindergarten to third grade have no more than 18 students per class. For fourth to eighth grade, the class sizes go up to 22 students. For high school, 25 per class. By law, if the education department finds the the number of students exceeds class size maximums, they can take away funding for school districts and schools.
Reports by the Department of Education show the ratio of students to teachers is already overcrowded, with too many students. Across the U.S., and in Florida, there’s also an ongoing teacher shortage. It’s made school districts get creative to handle the teaching needs of each school. The Florida Education Association reported there were nearly 9,000 vacant positions for teachers and school staff, as of August.
The FEA said it could have an effect on students in school.
“Given the number of teaching vacancies in August 2021,” the FEA reported. “More than 450,000 Florida students may have started the school year without full-time, certified teachers in their classrooms.”
In Polk County, more than 100 classrooms are over capacity. In just the Pre-K to third grade classrooms were 28% overfilled in the most recent school year. While not as dramatic, the county had fourth through eighth grade classes 9.6% over capacity, bringing the county level overall to 15%.
Hendry County also had more than 100 classrooms over the cap. In Pre-K to third grade, Hendry’s classrooms were 25% overfull while their fourth through eighth grade classes were close to 11% above cap. Unlike in Polk, Hendry County’s class capacity problem continued through its high schools too, with 5% of its classes overcrowded for a county-wide 14.5% across all age groups.
Franklin, Glades, Hamilton, Madison, Nassau and Orange counties also had some classrooms over capacity, though not to the extent of Polk or Hendry counties.
As the legislative session continues, and with the school year underway, it is currently unclear if the salary increases and bonuses will solve the problem. At the end of the day, the issue is just in the numbers. Right now, there just aren’t enough teachers working in Florida.